Canoeing Halfmoon Lake (Part I)

October 25, 2016

Larry was already to go, other than grabbing another cup of coffee, when I got there so we didn’t waste any time getting on our way. Of course, Hank came with us. While we were driving along highway 84, I took in the prairie. The large area of little blue stem, just before Pritchard’s road, was especially eye-catching, now an attractive dark whisky color. “It’s so beautiful!”

“It’s even more beautiful after a light snow and low angle sun light filtering through it,” Larry explained. Hank was whining a bit as we drove along, so Larry let him drape his paws between the front seats with his head snuggling Larry’s arm. I continued to take in the rolling prairie as we drove along.

We turned off highway 84 on to the West Newton road. Down the road, we left the prairie and entered a floodplain forest. When we turned into Halfmoon Lake Landing and went down the drive to the canoe launch, Hank perked up. He jumped back on to the back seat and stood at point looking out the window, really excited.

“You’re so excited, Hank.” I said.

Larry responded for Hank, “I know this place. I like this place; I have fun here!” Hank was indeed eager. Larry backed the truck in towards the landing – nothing more than a worn trail to the water’s edge. When allowed, Hank jumped out of the truck and ran around. Larry climbed into the bed of the truck to unfasten the canoe. Then I grabbed the end of the canoe and slowly walked with it until it was far enough out so that Larry could set the other end on the ground using the rope. He jumped out of the bed of the truck and picked up the other end of it; together we carried it the twelve or so feet to the water’s edge and set it down in the grass. Then Larry moved the truck. The banks of Halfmoon Lake are lined with trees and covered in grass – a diverse plant life. While Larry moved the truck, I took in the beauty of Halfmoon – enclosed and secluded, quiet and peaceful – the naked trees reflecting in the water, along with the patches of blue sky and clouds. Water and trees and quiet, my heart was at home.

Larry returned and we slid the canoe into the water. Larry held the canoe in place, close to the bank so that I could step in. Once I was in and seated it was Hank’s turn to get in. As always he wanted to swim instead of sitting in the canoe. “Hank, kennel,” Larry commanded a couple of times before Hank obeyed and jumped into his spot in the middle of the canoe. It felt so great to be on the water again, I could just feel my body relaxing. I was ready for another adventure. Larry slid the long pole into the bottom of the canoe and handed a paddle to me, “Here’s your blade.” Then he was just about ready to step in the canoe himself when he said, “I forgot the life jackets. Better grab those in case the warden’s out.” Before going back to the truck he commanded, “Hank, stay there. Stay, Hank.” Larry walked back up the short trail to the parking area. Hank didn’t stay – with a forceful leap that launched the canoe out into the water several feet from the bank, he ran after Larry, leaving me a drift. Thankfully, I had a paddle and there wasn’t a current or breeze. Even so, it still required some effort to pull the canoe back to the bank and position it such that the stern was close enough for Larry to grab a hold of without having to step into the water. Of course, I enjoyed the whole thing, steering and paddling the canoe is exhilarating and it was so exciting to be able to successfully, perhaps not quite as gracefully as Larry, maneuver a big canoe all by myself! (This of course planted the thought of getting my own, smaller canoe that I could load and unload and carry all by myself; though it would never replace a canoe outing with Larry.) I managed to get the canoe back to the bank around the same time Larry returned, light heartedly scolding Hank, “Hank, that’s not what you were suppose to do – pushing Bethany out in the water.” He tossed the life jackets into the middle of the canoe and grabbed on to the canoe. He instructed Hank to get in and then stepped in himself. Then Larry shoved us off, paddling us slowly down the lake. My paddling contributions were done for the day – it was easy paddling so Larry didn’t need the help and so that I was free to take photos as we glided along.

I was extra thrilled about this canoe outing because we were exploring new territory for me and unlike McCarthy, Goose Lake and the Weaver Bottoms, Halfmoon Lake felt more enclosed, not so vast, by its higher banks lined with trees, there wasn’t an empty space beyond those trees, they were like a wall around us – this gave it a more secluded and quiet, peaceful feeling. (I do like the other three places too and so very thankful for the wildlife I’ve seen and photographed in them, however, I think Halfmoon has become my spot, my special place.) As we started off Larry explained, “The water level will start to go down soon.” There was a mass of cattail plants, almost completely yellow brown now with a line of green across them, ahead to our left along the bank. Again, Larry explained, “You can see where the water level had been for a long time on the cattails.” I peered at the cattails more intently, and sure enough, there was a dark line around each stalk (a continuous line across the whole lot) perhaps a foot (hard to gauge from this distance) above the current water level. I was a bit amazed the water had been that much higher – but then again it wasn’t really surprising given all the rain we had that ran off the land into bodies of water. A tree growing on the very edge of a bank had very intriguing roots, reminding me of the tentacles of Ursula, the sea witch from Disney’s The Little Mermaid; however they weren’t sinister in the least. Brown leaves pillowed the ground behind the tree and floated on the water’s surface in front of the tree – bringing to mind a scene from the classic Winnie the Pooh movie; good storytellers draw on experience and observation. The water rippled gently, blurring and distorting the mirrored images of the tree and the vine hanging on to it. The roots that had been under the water were blackened. A green fungus grew in patches on the base of the tree, even going down on to the roots.

With so much to take in and observe my eyes again shifted to our left, back towards the cattails. Trees looming up behind them were now completely nude, having already dropped all of their leaves. Now each branch is exposed and one can see the form of the tree, a stately beauty and air about them. The cattails seem to come almost to a point, with a handful marching out a little further than the others, a small gap between them. A channel branches off, perpendicular to the “main lake” we were on, the cattail’s point in about a right angle. The channel is narrow. Across the water from the cattails is a good sized beaver lodge, a heaping pile of sticks, strategically placed, packed with mud to hold it together in a dome- like structure. A beaver lodge is always a source of excitement and wonder for me! I am awed by its builders and admire their ingenuity. Wonderstruck by beavers’, merely large rodents, ability to alter a habitat; there is so much diversity and life in beaver ponds and meadows.

Larry observed, “That house looks lived in.” I would have loved to see one of its residents. The bank rose up above the lodge into a plant covered mound – still yellow green. My attention was pulled to the water surface near the cattails, the water rippled outward in rings – something had broken above the water’s surface, and then quickly dropped back down. We observed several of these disturbances in the water. “Something just came up to the surface over there,” I said.

Larry replied, “Fish jumping. There’s another one among the cattails.” As we were passing the side channel, I heard the water erupt as a fish jumped high and smacked the water as it fell back beneath the water’s surface – of course it happened so fast I was unable to see it.

October Canoeing

October 18, 2016

Larry and I put the canoe in about 8:30 am. We brought Hank with us again. Though it was about forty five degrees when we started it didn’t feel all that chilly, but the sky was clear, a beautiful sunny day, and only a very slight whisper of a breeze. It was an absolutely perfect day – and I was thrilled to be starting this beautiful day out with a canoeing outing with Larry. We put in at the bridge, heading up McCarthy again. We followed our previous course from a couple of weeks ago.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the bluff straight ahead of the canoe launch. Last time we were out it was still mostly green – there was no longer much green left, a lot of orange and russets – but what really caught my eye was a clump of fiery orange yellow trees setting the bottom of the bluff ablaze. The trees before me had progressed considerably, what had just barely started to have a tinge of yellow green was fully yellow, and a couple of trees that still had their summer green last time had completely lost all of their leaves, the change was incredible. The vegetation around the trees and in the water had still been mostly green with only a hint of brown but now was completely yellow brown. The one island of trees had only one tree left with its leaves.

“Is the water level higher?” I asked.

“I’m not sure of it is or if it just looks that way because the vegetation has just senesced so much.”

“It just looks different somehow.”

“Yeah, it does.”

The sun lit the marsh so beautifully and perfectly, everything had a warm, golden glow. The now naked trees rising up out of the marsh were so stately and elegant. The moon was still visible in the western sky. My eyes were again drawn to the fiery trees on the bluff, “Don’t those big tooth aspen stand out?” Larry asked.

“Yes. I was wondering if they were aspen.” They were so beautiful; the sun hitting them had a lovely affect.

The channel, meandering lazily through the wild rice became narrower. Although it had senesced considerably, the wild rice was still grand. The morning light was just perfect, I was awestruck by it, how it illuminated the beauty of the marsh and nearby bluffs. Soon the wild rice gave way, the channel opened up again, becoming several times wider than it had been. We glided past the last “island” of trees where we’d seen the muskrat, I scanned the vegetation for any sign of a muskrat, but there was none. It’s amazing how much the vegetation had grown up and out, the morning when we saw the muskrat we were very close to the “bank” of the island now we had to go much further out. Moving along at a good pace, we soon came upon the large yellow water lily patch which looked even sadder than before and yet in the amazing lighting it looked brilliant. Most of the leaves had dried and shriveled up. The stems were bent and twisted, most curled under at the tip. Though rapidly decaying, it retained an element of loveliness perhaps it partly had to do with the low angle sunlight, casting shadows creating a beautiful abstract painting. We plunged into the lily patch. At some point in the lily patch, Larry switched to the pole. I continued to revel in the beauty of the lilies and the colorful trees on the bluff. A red wing black bird perched on the same scrawny little tree, more like a twig in diameter than a tree, that I’d seen a red wing black bird perched on last time. I noticed more red wing black birds this time then I had last time – where had they been hiding? They chattered considerably, however it seemed more subdued than it had even a month ago. Larry noted that there were still a lot of those fly-like insects around, but they too had become less. We continued gliding along at a pretty good pace; it didn’t take long to get to the other side of the lily patch. The wild rice plants again took over dominance – they continued to be a marvel too me.

The small channel curved tightly to our left, west, almost like half an “S” around an impenetrable wall of vegetation, and curved back to the right. Larry poled us through a tangle of fallen wild rice plants. We passed through some duckweed – a green film on top of the water’s surface. Then we were back into more open water; Larry switched the pole for the paddle. The wild rice-cattail morass to our left was very dense. The cattails still had a little bit of green. We were close to the tree-filled eastern bank, on our right. Larry thought he saw a muskrat swimming ahead of us, once I figured out where he was looking the creature disappeared under the water. Larry steered us to the location but we didn’t see it; Larry said, “The disappearing act.”After a moment’s pause to see if it would surface again, we continued on. A muskrat lodge was almost hidden in the wild rice and cattails. Larry again wondered at the seemingly lack of muskrats.

Suddenly we were hemmed in, the vegetation filled in the channel ahead of us. I thought, “Surely this is all the further we can go.” Larry stood up to get a better view of the marsh ahead of us. I was somewhat surprised when he didn’t turn us around but rather poled us forward through the wild rice plants. We were nearly enveloped by wild rice plants. We came to a slightly more open area; Larry continued on until we came to another wall of wild rice then halted. “Well I guess this is all the further we should go.” And so we sat, enjoying the relaxing quality of being on the water, and we took in the marsh. We went back and forth between chatting and sitting quietly. We sat there for about half an hour before Hank became really impatient to be on the move again, stepping up his whining. I saw a caterpillar like critter on a wild rice plant, Larry said, “It may be a remaining rice worm.”

Upon Hank’s insisting, Larry turned the canoe around and we headed back the way we came around the little peninsula with barren trees, along the “S” curve. I just loved those trees and the beauty of them being reflected in the water. As we were rounding the peninsula, a flock of trumpeter swans from the northeast flew by us, going southwest until they were almost to the bluff and then turned southeast. The beauty, majesty of the water, aquatic plants, bluffs, and blue sky was breathtaking – I was awestruck. I took in the stately, now nude trees standing up above the marsh on our right, west. We went back through the lily patch and from there changed our course to the other channel.

We were closer to the trees on our right side now – something about trees stirs something deep in my heart. I enjoyed passing by them. A few of these trees still retained some leaves but were working on undressing. We saw a glimpse of a pileated woodpecker – I would have loved to get a good photo but it was mostly hidden by twisting branches and flew away as we drew near. The channel curved lazily. I surveyed the vegetation at the water’s surface, mainly on our left, for any sign of a muskrat – but again there was nothing. The bridge was in view and we were drawing closer and closer to it. We were parallel to it as Larry paddled us to the landing. All too soon we had completed our outing – I have never quit canoeing because I am tired of it or ready to be done but rather because it is time to get on to other things. As we were leaving, Larry said, “If we can we should get out again next week, put in at Halfmoon and go up the backside of the prairie.”

September Canoeing

September 29, 2016

It was a beautiful autumn day, a little chilly, only forty five degrees around 8:00 am, and there was a slight breeze. It was about 8:12 am when Larry put the canoe in McCarthy Lake. With one hand he held the canoe steady, and offered the other to me to help me steady myself while I stepped into the canoe. Once I was settled in the seat in the bow, he handed a paddle to me, “In case you need it.” Then he pushed the canoe further into the water. “Get in, Hank.” Hank jumped in. Larry stepped in and sat down and pushed us off. We were heading up McCarthy Lake again – Larry wanted me to catch the change in the vegetation – witnessing the marsh go from bursting at the seams with life to that life dwindling until it appears to be barren of life. The trees had progressed more, their autumn colors deepening and more of them dressed in their autumn colors– a beautiful sight. Some trees had already shed their leaves completely.

I became more and more chilled the longer we were out but I didn’t mind too much – the beauty of the marsh in autumn was relaxing and refreshing. The chilling morning and heavily overcast sky did not diminish my enjoyment of being in a canoe on the marsh with someone who enjoyed it as much as I did. I was still reveling in the beauty of the trees reflected in the water. Larry glided the canoe effortlessly up the channel on the right (the “main” channel) following our previous course. The width and lay of the channel toward the beginning seemed slightly different from two weeks ago, but I may have been imagining it.

“The water clarity is better,” remarked Larry. I peered down in to the water, enjoying the strange but fantastic shapes of the aquatic vegetation below the water’s surface. A kingfisher flew across the marsh in front of us, cackling as it went, landing in a tree ahead and to the right of us. They are such awesome looking birds; their white neck tie very prominent, the feathers on the back of their head stick out a little, but not messy looking, rather like it was styled. Larry thought it amusing that they seemed to need to make noise to be able to fly. My heart was thrilled to see them flying about the marsh – there seemed to be less of them though.

Larry didn’t halt, we continued gliding, taking in everything as we glided past. The wild rice had senesced quite rapidly – very little of it was still green; it had turned brown. In many places it appeared black toward the bottom of the plant, at the water’s surface. The wild rice plants didn’t seem quite as tall, their presence and energy had diminished. The large flocks of black birds had moved on, none flew up as we passed through the small passages in the wild rice. Larry pointed out three teal that flew away and two lone mallards. I still admired the stately dead snags rising up out of the patches of wild rice – they have so much character about them – something about those lovely snags always stirs my heart, in an unexplainable way. The wild rice plants were wet, dripping water; when we passed close enough it slid across my face, it wasn’t a pleasant tickle, though it didn’t hurt. Sometimes I grabbed hold of a plant and held it away from my face as the canoe moved me past it. Beyond a bend, around some still towering wild rice plants, the channel went from a tiny stream to a wide, slow moving river. We glided past the island of trees where we’d seen the muskrat in May – we were further away from the trees, the vegetation had grown up thickly and far out into the channel, wild rice and cattails, the cattails had more green to them than the wild rice. We glided past some lily pads that lay flat on top of the water’s surface.

A little further along, we came to the large patch of yellow water lilies. The leaves drooped even more than they had two weeks ago, brown and shriveled, bent over, so sad looking. Very few leaves were still green, some almost appeared black. Larry glided the canoe forward into the lily patch. Myriads of insects (in the fly order) were buzzing around just above the water surface and on and among the lily plants. The look of the lily patch wasn’t the only thing that changed. It was so quiet, too quiet; there was no meowing of sora rails. “The rails must have migrated already,” observed Larry. Their absence could be felt. I was a little disappointed that they were gone. Most of the red wing black birds were gone too. I observed one male on top of a tall plant – his singing sounded so lonely. In the trees lining the bank ahead and northeast of us, Larry spotted a pileated woodpecker. I saw its shape as it was flying away. Larry exchanged the paddle for the pole at some point to pole us through the lily patch. We didn’t pause until we were on the other side of it. I took in the beautiful trees on the bank ahead and to the right of us. Larry pushed us through some wild rice – the open water available had shrunk. Larry paused, wondering if we should continue forward or turn back. He decided to keep going forward, there was more open water ahead. He poled us through thick vegetation where it seemed like there was hardly any water. Then suddenly there was water again. Cattails grew more abundantly among the wild rice here. The tips of some of the plants appeared almost blackish purple – varying the color scheme and thereby enhancing the beauty. Larry switched again, putting the pole back in the canoe and taking up the paddle again. We paddled around a bend, a jut in the bank, keeping near the east bank. Larry was saying we weren’t seeing much for muskrat activity – a lot less houses and no signs of them grazing the wild rice. Then he spotted what was probably one ahead of us swimming in the water, “That’s probably a muskrat up ahead of us,” even with some direction from Larry it took me a few moments to see the v-shape in the water. But then it must have noticed us and dived before I was really able to catch a glimpse of it. Larry paddled us to where it had disappeared and we paused there for a few moments – peering into the water and looking around us. “The disappearing act,” commented Larry after seeing no sign of it. He started to paddle the canoe forward again.

We didn’t get much further when the open water again began to shrink and the vegetation became very thick in front of us. “And I think this is all the further we should try to go, “Larry said. He stopped paddling – we sat there taking in the marsh. Hank was whining almost nonstop. We chatted about random things and also quietly sat in the canoe.

“I wish the highway noise wasn’t so loud,” said Larry.

“Yeah.” We talked about why it seemed louder today than it does some other days.

After a while, Larry turned the canoe around and we began making our way back. I admired the beauty of the trees reflected in the water on the jut of land we had to go around and the bluffs ahead cradling us and the marsh. Back into the lily patch Larry took us up close to the western wall of wild rice, on our right. There were small sparrows hopping about on the broken and bent, dried wild rice plants. “They’re such a cute little bird. “Let’s get close enough so you can see one,” said Larry. They were busy birds, not staying in one place very long so it was hard to do. We lingered there along the wild rice plants trying to get a look at the birds for a few minutes. Then we continued on through the lily patch. “I can’t tell if someone else was through here and made that path or if it was us,” wondered Larry. There seemed to be a pathway through the lily pads, we followed it. Not following our usual course through McCarthy anymore but going through a narrow opening in the wild rice near the island of trees to the other channel, which opened up more into an actual water channel. The water was deeper here. I continued to enjoy the lovely wild rice plants on both side of us, and the vegetation beneath the water surface. And of course, I loved the trees and marveled in their elegance. The channel curved ever so gently to our left. It was amazing how some trees were still as green as can be, others blazing orange or yellow, and yet others had already lost all their leaves. A kingfisher sat in a branch extending out, far above the water. I watched the awesome bird as we drew closer and closer – wondering just how close we could get before it would take off. And then with a call it flew off. Larry said, “Getting the motor started.” The channel curved a little more sharply left around that tree until it was going east instead of south. I scanned the vegetation on our left hoping to see a muskrat but there wasn’t one. Larry mentioned we should be seeing more signs of muskrats – though a lodge we passed seemed to have some fresh stuff added to it. We were back at the bridge and landed the canoe. As always I got out first and pulled it a little on to the bank. While Larry was finishing up securing the canoe in the back of the truck, I pointed to a tree far off in the distance, “is there something in that tree?” Larry got his binoculars out and I looked through the long lens of my camera, at about the same time we said, “It’s a bald eagle.” With that we got into the truck.

Canoeing with Sora Rails (Part III)

My attention shifted. Behind the rail and several feet away stood another sora rail, facing the other way. This one appeared more slender and sleek and its face wasn’t as dark. The sun hit it just right making its breast, chest, neck, and cheek glow an odd pinkish orange. Its reflection also mirrored in the water. What was it standing on? It turned around and walked in the direction of the other one, which was still minding its own business perched where it had been, and then changed its mind again turning around and heading back the other direction. With the sunlight, it was a beautiful painting in motion. It walked away a little bit but then turned around again, and circled back, changed its mind yet again, turned and walked away. Then the first one followed it. They squabbled a little – seemed silly to be fighting over lily pads with there being so many. Then it seemed like they changed places. A third one entered on to the scene, the first one walked toward it and they also squabbled. It was amusing to watch. We had watched the birds for over ten minutes before Larry turned the canoe around to start making our way back. Hank whined throughout. Larry said, “Isn’t it funny how they fight? – It’s my pad.”

Larry pushed the canoe back through the huge lily patch. I noticed several more sora rails, all near the wild rice plants along the edges. Every time Hank whined, Larry told him to hush. At one point, Larry stopped the canoe, grabbed the paddle and reversed the canoe, for a moment I was confused as to why. The long pole had gotten stuck, leaving Larry’s hands, so he backed up to get it. Larry then put it back in the canoe once he freed it from the vegetation and muck – he then went back to using the paddle. Soon we were through the vast lily patch.

We didn’t follow our previous course completely. Instead of passing on the east side of the island of trees – we glided through a small opening in the wild rice plants to go down the other channel. Flying up out of the water somewhere ahead of us was a marsh hawk, another name for northern harrier. When it came up out of the water it looked like it had something in its talons but it dropped it. I felt bad that we may have been the cause of it dropping its food. I was excited to get a better look at it though. Magnificent bird, I enjoyed watching it soar past. From what I could see of it, it was dark brown with a bright white patch just above its tail feathers with some white on the underside of its wings. Its head was turned our direction when it soared, some distance away and above us, past on our right. Was it looking at us?

Trees loomed up out of the marsh to our right. Some of the trees had already lost most of their leaves. I again marveled at the simplistic, yet elegant, beauty of the wild rice plants bordering the channel on either side. There was more water in this channel. As we glided along, Larry said, “This is a remnant of the Zumbro when it came through here.” (Which is probably part of the reason for it having more water.) Again, we saw a lot of red wing black birds decorating the trees above the wild rice plants, easily hundreds of them – all chattering. We continued to glide along lazily. A large flock of the black birds took off from the wild rice plants as we went by, wings pounding the air. Larry said, “If you were tucked behind a blind out here and spent the night, in the early morning hours they’d sound like thunder.”

The beauty of the marsh, especially with it poised, ready to launch into fall color, was so healing and refreshing. The dead snags mingled in with the alive and fully clothed trees, lovely, adding to the overall essence of the place. A pair of ducks flew off to our right along with the black birds; I wasn’t able to see what kind they were. The channel had begun to bend slowly to our left, taking us more and more southeast, once the bend was complete we were heading east; startling black birds the whole way, through the wild rice and trees. Cattails started to take over the scene, growing more abundant, especially along the south bank, on our right. – They still looked quite green. I just loved the trees standing tall above us on either side. As we were turning southeast, the bridge came into view. It had been hidden behind the bend. I always feel a little sad when the bridge comes back into view, and we’re heading toward it. Looking to my left, I saw something brown in the water, behind a curtain of wild rice plants – either a beaver or a muskrat but most likely a muskrat. It was just sitting there in the water, running its forepaws through its fur, grooming. My heart leaped. I turned very slightly to get a better look at it but with my movement, it spooked and dived beneath the water. “Was that a beaver or a muskrat?” I asked Larry.

“I don’t know. I didn’t see it, but it sounded like a muskrat. Did you see it?”

“Yeah, it was grooming.” Though it had disappeared so quickly, I was still thrilled to have seen it at all. As we neared the bridge, we startled a few more ducks – I believe they were teal. I started to put one of my camera lenses away to make it easier to step out of the canoe onto the bank but Larry stopped me by saying, “We’ll head downstream a little bit if you have time.”

“Ok, I have time.” So Larry expertly guided us under the bridge. While I was taking a picture of the pilings, Larry said, “Water marks from when the water was high for an extended amount of time.” I enjoyed the reflections of the trees in the water there too. The red wing black birds were hard at work harvesting the wild rice. I loved the willow tree leaning over the water. We went past it then turned around. Larry thought there was something in the tree so he got us really close to it, pushing the bow almost under the branches. But we weren’t able to see it. There were a whole bunch of whirly gig beetles spinning around on the water’s surface – Larry thought it would be fun to video them and have a sound track. We made our way back up the channel to the bridge and landed the canoe. Larry said, “We should try to get out again next week, things will start to senesce quickly.”

Canoeing with Sora Rails (Part II)

Trees grew up along the northeast bank, walling in the marsh – adding to our sense of solitude and peace. Wild rice grew thickly all around the lily patch, the only passage through was to the northwest. In many places, the coontail lying on its side poked above the water’s surface, creating a spiny texture. At some point, Larry exchanged the paddle for a really long pole, standing up in the canoe – poling us along. He explained, “This is how you go wild ricing.”He moved the pole from one side to the other going over and above the canoe (and my head) with it. We paused near the northwest edge of the lily patch where a few more wild rice plants grew, observing the marsh.

I spotted a bird to my right, “Is that a rail?”

Larry had been looking through the wild rice to a gray spot in the vegetation ahead, and replied, “No that’s a heron.” I pointed to my right, “But is that a rail?”

He said, “Yeah, that is a rail.”I was elated. Finally, I had a chance to see a sora rail, more than just a fleeting glimpse. Bigger than a robin, more roundish (less upright; compressed laterally). Though mostly brown it was a beautiful bird – speckled with black and white that set off the brown in a lovely contrast. The rows of tadpole shaped black spots streaming down its wings and back aid in camouflaging the rail. Between the black lines were lines of tiny white dots and streaks, an artist’s final touch to add contrast and dimension. Dark brown back and wing feathers fade into very light brown with white specks on its breast. Its side and belly were a mosaic of dark brown irregular splotches with white and black edgings. The bird’s chest and cheeks were a soft gray. Its chin looked to be black. It had a black diamond around its tarnished yellow beak, the black eye at the point of the diamond. A white streak crossed its brow and a dark brown cap with black spots covered the top of its head. Tail was erect almost like a fan but not spread out (like a quails), and looked to be dark brown with black edging; the underside of the tail a flashy white, like a white tail deer. The coloration and patterns of the rail’s feathers make the bird difficult to spot among the marsh vegetation at the water’s surface. I was thrilled this one wasn’t spooked by us so I could take a picture; another beautiful gift from God. The rail seemed too busy collecting food to pay us much mind.

Grateful and satisfied with finally seeing a rail, I turned my attention to the gray spot in the wild rice some distance ahead of us peering through the few wild rice plants directly before us. It was indeed a great blue heron sitting in the water with its grayish blue back to us. It was busy preening its feathers – with its wings wrapped around it, it looked very round. Its white head and neck seemed to glow in the morning light. Its back and wing feathers appeared stringy. Neck bent and head down, turned backward grooming its wings. We sat silently watching it, enthralled. I enjoy watching great blue herons – they’re so majestic. My heart lifts when I see them. Slowly, Larry began to creep the canoe forward. As we began going through the wild rice plants, a thin, almost invisible spider web that we broke through clung to me – always a strange feeling. I marveled that there could be spiders even out on the water. We inched along, our eyes glued to the blue heron. And then the heron noticed us and immediately took flight, appearing quite gangly with its long neck and legs, a spray of water falling off its feet. Larry remarked, “It must not have seen us coming at all that we scared it off.” I was a bit bummed it flew away, but I loved watching it in flight – such an impressive wing span. I watched it until it disappeared into the trees. Another wood duck was startled by us too, flying away. The wild rice ahead of us now seemed lonely and empty without the great blue heron.

Looking ahead to the northwest, Larry said, “It doesn’t look like there is much more water ahead of us.” So we sat there, again taking in the marsh.

“Rail to your right. Right.” I had trouble spotting it at first, and then there it was sitting among the lily pads – I took it in for a few moments before looking elsewhere. There’s just so much to see and experience, and take in. I was studying the vegetation to my left. There was another sora rail, hopping around, going about its day, finding breakfast. I enjoyed the opportunity and front row seating to watch this lovely bird. It appeared to be catching breakfast, most likely selecting from the mass of insects on the water’s surface. It would dip its beak down and pick something up than lift its head up, presumably eating, then dip its head back down again, turning around, constantly moving. Parts of the bird would sometimes be hidden by the vegetation as it danced about eating breakfast. I was mesmerized by its dance. It may have been eating seeds too. I observed it grab something with its beak. With the sun lighting the bird, I could see its eyes were chocolate brown and not black. I think Larry was watching the rail too.

There’s another one, ahead of you,” Larry said. I had a harder time seeing that one because of the wild rice plants between us. Larry suggested, “Stand up; you could probably get a better look at it.” Very slowly, being sure to balance myself, I stood up and took a look. I could indeed see it better – so beautiful, with its reflection mirrored in the water. Do they ever notice their reflection? Though the silence, or rather the peace almost felt palpable – a cooing, almost like a high pitched meowing kitten, sound filled the marsh around us. “Is that the rails making that noise?” I asked Larry.

“Yeah, it’s them,” he replied. I had sat back down at that point. The rail ahead of me was too hard to see so my attention returned to the rail on my left – bathed in the morning sunlight, it looked splendid. It too was reflected in the water. Still hopping about, turning this way and that way, studying the water. It actually looked like it was looking at its reflection. I looked back at the one ahead of me but it was even harder to see. Then my attention wandered to the wild rice plants ahead and towering to my right, just a handful of them. I took in their beauty noticing there were a few grains of rice left in the plant. I also noticed a thin strand of a spider’s web only visible when you look just so at it, shimmering in the sun, stretched between wild rice plants. My attention was again pulled back to the rail on my left. Its one foot stuck up out of the water – I couldn’t tell if it was resting on a curled up lily pad or only just looked that way. It had a large foot. I was so fascinated by this bird. It had turned around again. Its wings slightly raised as it dipped its beak down to the water’s surface. In a split second its wings were folded tightly against its back again, head up. Its long toes looked to be gripping the stalk of a bent wild rice plant. Head down and turned inward, now, as it preens the feathers along its side. Almost like getting an itch. Then its head is up, turned almost backwards, reaching its back to preen its back feathers too. Next its head is down, preening its chest feathers; ruffled neck feathers make it appear fuzzy. It pauses the grooming session, looks around. Then head back down, bent side ways to get the spot right under its wing again. (This all happened in just a minute but it seemed much longer, in a good way, as I was totally captivated by it.) Something must have caught the bird’s attention for it stopped preening suddenly. Head lifted high, looking behind it fully alert. It wasn’t too alarmed though, for it faced the other way again in a second.

Canoeing with Sora Rails

September 14, 2016

Around 8:00 am, Larry backed the truck up to the landing and we unloaded the canoe. Hank, the young black lab, jumped into the water for an early morning swim, having a great time. Larry scolded him multiple times and told him to get out of the water. It took several commands before Hank listened and came out. Larry moved the truck. Hank jumped back in the water, Larry scolded him again and told him to get out. Larry pulled the canoe forward in the long vegetation, sliding it into the water. Larry, bending over, maneuvered the canoe so it was parallel to the bank, bow pointing northward, “Bethany first.” Hank was about to get in or jump in the water ahead of me, so Larry repeated, “Bethany first.” I stepped into the canoe; it rocked back and forth a bit as I did so. Then Larry said, “Hank’s turn.” The overgrown puppy hopped into the canoe, rocking it a little. Then Larry got in. He had to command Hank to sit down several times before he listened.

It was a beautiful morning; not much of a breeze, partly sunny, cool – around fifty degrees, which actually felt colder than around thirty five degrees in May – the sunshine was warm but the air had a slight chill, striking a perfect balance. And there isn’t a better way to start off the day than a peaceful canoe trip with a dear friend. The birds were busy, singing and chattering as they went about their morning. We heard and saw a couple kingfishers fly by ahead of us. Near the bank a film of green duckweed coated the top of the water’s surface, but dispersed before the main channel, which was clear with amazing clarity. Wild rice and cattails grew along the bank – the wild rice towered above us. Larry observed, “The wild rice has senesced so quickly, the stems are turning brown already – and there’s some kernels.” We glided past the plants on to the “main” channel.  Larry said, “Ducks will start returning soon.” Not a moment later, “There’s a wood duck flying by.” I saw its dark silhouette as it flew off. The trees ahead on our left had senesced further in the past three weeks; they had been mostly green at the end of August with their tips just beginning to fade to pale green with a hint of yellow. Now they were all pale green or light fiery orange. It was amazing to watch it progress. Now even trees on the bluff were starting to senesce too. I still marveled at the reflections on the water’s surface particularly of the bluff and clouds.

The wild rice was tall on either side of us as the channel got smaller and smaller. Larry said he’d get some of the rice for me. He was amazed at how fast it had progressed – the plants were beginning to brown and there was hardly any rice left on the plants. As we went through a really narrow spot, hitting rice plants as we went by some rice fell into my lap. Plants tickled my chin, neck and cheeks as they slipped by my face. I didn’t mind – it helped me become a part of the marsh. Larry said, “There’s a rail.” I didn’t even catch a glimpse of it before the bird had totally disappeared. Every time Larry spotted a rail it would fly away before I could take a picture or even get a good look at them. Perhaps at some point I’ll see and photograph one.

We rounded a bend in the wild rice wall, red wing black birds were everywhere on the wild rice plants, males and females. They were eating the remaining rice and any rice worms. There were just so many black birds. Their wings whirred as they scattered when we drew near – loud in the otherwise peaceful morning. If we’d been any closer, we probably would have felt a breeze. The further in we went the more birds flew up until a large flock darkened the sky above us. Very likely hundreds of red wing black birds. Complaining loudly as they flew off – upset to have their breakfast disturbed. The number of black birds was incredible. I just loved the wall of wild rice on either side of us – it felt more magical and allowed us to easily become one with the marsh. It was also very beautiful. I think the height of wild rice plants will never cease to amaze me. Being on the water, immersed in the marsh refreshed my heart. I don’t know why the wild rice plants affected me so but they did.

We passed the clump of trees where we’d seen the muskrat a few months ago – there was no sign of the small furry creature this time. The channel widened considerably by the trees. Another noisy kingfisher flew by above us. A pair of ducks flew up out of the vegetation to our left. We continued along enjoying the morning and being on the water. Another duck flew away as we approached – funny, we didn’t even see them until they flew. The wild rice plants on either side began to hedge us in again, the channel getting smaller. Then it opened up again, we’d come to the large yellow water lily patch. Larry pushed us into the lily patch, we moved along slowly. It looked so different from just a few weeks ago – the lilies had senesced a lot. The leaves were brown and shriveled. Very few were still green and even those that were still green were less vibrant. The lily plants grew densely; there were only a few wild rice plants that grew here and there throughout the lily patch. The marsh, even just the large patch of lilies felt vast – some of the bordering bluffs seemed a great distance away. Tiny fly-like insects, possibly midges were thick just above the water’s surface – incredible numbers of them. A lot of the lily pads were folded and bent on stalks that stood above the water’s surface – they looked sad as they drooped like a dog hanging his head after being scolded. Some lily pads laid flat on top of the water’s surface. Some stuck out of the water at an angle, like a tongue sticking out. Being a tactile person, I reached out and touched one of the green pads sticking out of the water – such on interesting texture, smooth, waxy, which is an adaptation for living in the water, and it felt thicker than it looked. It looked like a frog actually; I could imagine they were large frogs. The pads had a center stripe, lighter in color running down its middle, with radiant lines, parallel to one another leaving the center line and going to the very edge of the leaf. The decaying leaves were fading from green to grayish, yellow edging, with brown spots along the edges and throughout the leaf. I was intrigued by the various patterns of the brown spots. Coon tail, which actually does look like a tail though perhaps a little more like a fox’s tail, grew thickly in an enlarged mass below the lilies. Were there fish or turtles hiding out in those forests beneath the water’s surface? I wish I could explore those secret and exclusive forests for a bit as a turtle sees it. What would I discover?

A New Venture: Photos for Sale

I am embarking on a new venture and I would like to share it with you, my readers! I have so many amazing photos and though some are shared here in my blog it is a shame for them to just sit on my computer for only me to enjoy, so I have decided to start selling my photos. Do you love my photos as much as you love my writing? You can now purchase them as various types of prints in several sizes to hang on you wall or you can get my photos on mugs, throw pillows, beach and bath towels, tote bags, phone cases, shower curtains and they’re also available as greeting cards. The prints and home decor items would also make fantastic gifts, perfect for Easter basket gifts, birthdays, mother’s day gifts! I would appreciate you checking them out at http://bethany-benike.pixels.com/If there are photos you have seen in my blogs that you are interested in purchasing but aren’t yet uploaded on the photo website please let me know and I’ll try to get them uploaded. For several years now, I have been wanting to start selling my photos but have for what ever reason held back. I finally took that step in February. I’m really excited to see how it pans out and wanted to give you the opportunity to share in this newest venture. Thank you so much for reading my stories!

Across the Field and Into the Woods

As soon as I was down, we crossed the road and walked downhill in the ditch, westward, to Rocky. He was chewing on some kind of bone that appeared to have been in plastic, which he’d pulled out. We tried calling for him again but received no acknowledgement. As we approached we could see he was chewing on a set of ribs and that there was a carcass of some sort wrapped in plastic. Jesse was a little nervous about looking at the carcass, being wrapped in plastic and thrown in a ditch was very suspicious. It turns out it was just a deer carcass. But why was it wrapped in plastic? Jesse pulled Rocky away from it. Rocky took a piece with him. We walked across the road again trying to keep Rocky near. We then walked in the ditch along the road, uphill and eastward again. For whatever reason, Rocky wanted to walk on the road instead of in the ditch. We scolded him and called him and finally got him to explore the ditch. We passed the spot we came down the hill. The bluff became even steeper as we walked along side it. I said, “It’s a good thing we came down where we did; we wouldn’t have been able to climb down that.” The rounded bluff gave way to a rocky flat ledge. “There’s the old road bed.” Trees and a ravine separated us from the stone structure. Jesse led us further up to where there was a trail going into the trees at the head of the structure. We were both quite warm at this point, so Jesse took his hat and gloves off and put them on an old fencepost. I carefully set the antler on top of them. Jesse climbed down in to the ravine. I followed after him. Toward the bottom I had to slide down the rest of the way. There was a stone culvert in the stone bridge/structure. Jesse and I had gone inside it a few years ago and were amazed at how quiet it was inside. This time the remains of a dead animal lay at the mouth of the culvert. Jesse wasn’t so sure about going in without a flashlight not knowing what might be living inside. So Jesse explored the rest of the short ravine. Rocky explored above us. I was curious about the dead animal so I got closer to it and bent down. It was either a young coyote or a gray fox. How did it die? And how long had it been dead? Jesse came back to look at it more closely too. Apparently this part of the ditch was a dump site, old rusty pails, something that looked to be a rug (hard to tell with the snow on top), a chair and other items. It made me angry that people dumped stuff here instead of disposing of it properly. We climbed out of the ravine, Jesse first. Sliding in the snow and almost falling we made our way back up. Jesse said, “I don’t remember it being this bad going down.”

I replied, “Because this isn’t where we came down.”

We followed the trail along the old road bed. Jesse wondered why pine trees only grew in this spot. Again I didn’t have an answer. If we had continued on this trail we would have stepped out on to the rock pile we were looking for. Instead, we didn’t go very far on it before turning northward, stepping over an old rusty barbed wire fence. Jesse led us up the bluff, this part wasn’t steep and the trees weren’t as close together nor was there much underbrush to grab hold of our feet to trip us up. Our feet crunched in the snow. We saw more raccoon and deer tracks. Rocky came toward our general direction but wasn’t close to us and made his own paths, following his nose. We walked up the hill to the edge of the woods, a rolling field opened up before us. Jesse told me they owned half of it and rented the other half. Then we turned around and headed back down the hill. Before going down the drop to the road bed, we halted. Jesse sat down and then reclined in the snow, feet stretched out before him, leaning on his elbows. I sat down too, a little above him. Rocky continued to wander around. We listened to the birds. A woodpecker drilled on a tree some distance away across a ravine that came to the culvert on the other side. A few birds were chanting in the trees all around us. Jesse asked what they were but I wasn’t sure. Then Jesse saw a bird fly out of the tree and landed on a branch of another, making that noise. He asked if I saw the bird. It took a few moments before I saw it. It was a good sized woodpecker. I told Jesse, “I think it’s a red bellied woodpecker.”

He replied, “But it doesn’t have red belly but a red head.”

“Yeah, it’s confusing; it means it has a red head and a big belly.”

Jesse thought it should have been named a little differently. We watched the bird hop along the tree branch for a few moments before it flew away. Mindful that it had taken us over an hour to get this far and it was approaching three o’clock, I reluctantly told Jesse we should probably start heading back. Though we really didn’t want to, we decided it would be best to get up anyway since our backsides were soaked through. We headed back down the bluff to the road bed, the way we’d come, then followed the trail back to where we’d left the hat, gloves and antler. While we picked those up, Rocky explored the bottom of the ravine. We called for him; he took a few moments to come back up to us. Jesse decide it would be needless back tracking and put us much lower on the bluff if we went back down along the road and up the former snowmobile trail. Instead we crossed the road, hiked up in the ditch a little bit to get beyond the gaping ravine between the road behind us and the bluff. We climbed up and up, over fallen branches, through the trees and the brambles; angling southwest as we went. We stepped over an old fence. I was hot and sweaty, out of breath and stumbling now and then. Jesse teased me asking what’s wrong. I told him it had been awhile since I’d walked longer than an hour. He told me I should work on that. Soon we were to the top of the bluff, on the edge between the woods and the pasture. Rocky crawled under the fence and wandered around in the pasture. Jesse and I walked westward along the fence to find the best place to crawl under the fence. Jesse scooted under the wire first. I followed behind, still holding on to the antler. We walked along the fence in the pasture for a ways. We saw turkey tracks in the snow. The pasture turned southwest and then south. Up ahead was the pond. We were walking where Rocky had been on our way out. We walked down along the dike a little on the pond, this time we were on the east side of it. We turned eastward, hiking up the slope, and arrived back at the first gate. Out of the pasture and up the slope even further until we were on top of the hill. We were further to the east then what we’d been going out. Jesse was surprised we couldn’t see our tracks. The sun still glared on the snow. I was growing quite weary. Rocky had left us and was far out in the field southwest of us. We crested the hill and started to go downward again, now we could see our footprints and joined up with them. We stepped over the fence again. Jesse remarked how we didn’t walk in a straight line, even for a short distance our steps were zig-zagged. Down the ditch and back up it, across the gavel road and backyard, we’d come full circle.

Across the Field and Into the Woods (Part II)

We continued walking. Rocky, still opposite us, was close to the bottom of the ravine. Trees overhung the trail. Through an opening in the branches, we could look across the way to another set of bluffs, bathed in sunshine. Jesse paused to take in the view, I came up alongside him. He asked, “Why are there cedar trees on that bluff but not a single one on this bluff?”

“I don’t know.”

“Probably has something to do with this being a north facing slope and that a south facing slope. Maybe it doesn’t like shade.”

“That could be.”

Onward, we resumed our decent, taking in the trees as we walk. Looking up at the trees, at circular leaf bundles in the top most branches of a few of the trees, Jesse asked, “Are those squirrel caches?”

“Yes, they’re made by squirrels.”

“Why do they store stuff way up there? So that other critters don’t get them?”

“I’m not sure; I don’t know much about squirrels.”

“Well why not?” he teased me.

“I can’t know everything.”

We reached the end of the trail, Rocky had joined us for the last little bit. It curved northwestward, leaving the ravine behind, which seemed to curve a little to the northeast or meet up with another going east west rather than south north. The trail took us to the highway. I told Jesse we needed to make sure Rocky crossed the road with us. It took a bit of coaxing to get Rocky to come with us but once we had his attention the three of us crossed the road. I’m always fascinated by how much bigger roads feel when you are walking on them rather than driving. Across the road, through the ditch and back into the trees, Rocky wandered away from us again, though staying mostly in sight of us and heading the same direction. Jesse immediately led us eastward up the bluff following deer trails. We were looking for a specific spot, which we hadn’t approached from this direction before. We wanted to go to the big pile of limestone rocks made when blasting was done to build the new road. We no longer had the luxury of an open trail, the trees were closer together and crowded the very narrow deer path; requiring us to do lots of ducking under branches and pushing branches aside. We were poked and grabbed at by branches as we passed. Some places we were trying not to be tripped by brambles. And upward we climbed, a most difficult path certainly, and yet the difficulties were what made it an exhilarating adventure, compounded by the good exercise we were giving our bodies. Up, up, up we climbed. We sometimes stumbled, grasping on to trees to keep our balance, being stabbed with thorns. The bluff side above and below us was steep, losing our footing and sliding down would be quite painful. We were now far above the road and ditch. We seemed to be walking on the very edge. Rocky walked above us, having a much easier time at it. Jesse wondered several times if this was the best way to go or if we should go further up. But we decided to keep on our present course. Sometimes we were bent over so far we were practically crawling. We halted a few times but only for a moment. The snow added to the difficulty of the trail. We didn’t travel with ease, elegance or agility as the noble creatures who created this trail. Yet following their trail though clumsily we were close to the white tail deer, their presence was all around us in many trails traversing the bluff, the tracks in the trail, the occasional pile of droppings, and sharing the experience of steadily climbing upward past the grabby tree branches, each step taken with care. And an even greater treasure and link connecting us to the majestic creatures was given to us.”I found an antler shed!” Jesse said.

“Really?” I asked excitedly.

“Yes, really!” Jesse replied, picking it up and turning around to show me.

“Cool! I’ve looked for sheds a couple of times and haven’t found any.” We examined it very closely. I was eager to feel it, to hold it and have the connection with the magnificent buck who’d dropped it. Jesse held it as we looked at the markings on it; something had been chewing n on it. Jesse wondered what kind of animal had chewed on it and if it was for the calcium, like dogs chewing on bones. Jesse wondered about the age of the buck. We speculated it was of decent size and at least a few years old. Jesse also wondered if it felt weird to have only one antler – did it feel lop-sided? Of course, we decided to keep it. The ends were pointed and sharp. Parts of it were smooth and other parts bumpy. Jesse gave the antler to me. It felt heavier than I’d expected. Being a very tactile person, I loved the feel and texture of the antler. I felt instantly connected to the buck. I wondered about his life. It was amazing – I loved it.  Jesse took the antler back as we continued walking up and up and still ducking under tree branches. Rocky was below us now. We called for him but he didn’t listen. We continued onward, keeping an eye on him. He went even further down and was soon in the ditch, then across the road and westward a little bit. We called for him but he didn’t pay any attention to us. (At some point Jesse gave the antler to me.) He found something in the ditch across the road. We continued to call him but he was totally involved in whatever he found in the ditch.

“He must have found a dead animal or something,” I said.

“He’s pulling on something,” Jesse said.

“It looks like a piece of plastic.” We tried calling him again but he continued to ignore us.

Jesse asked, “Should we go get him?”

“Yeah, we should go get him. If he gets on the road he could get hit.”

We assessed the bluff below us to find a way down. It was nearly vertical, not much of a slope. Using the trees, Jesse more or less scooted down the hill, somewhat leaping into the ditch at the bottom. He looked back up at me and he told me it was my turn. Jesse had the advantage of height and both hands available. I stepped closer to the edge and paused to survey the way down, trying to decide how best to go about it. Walking down wasn’t an option, staying low was the safest way. The trees stopped halfway down, perhaps sooner. And I had to go down with only one hand for support. “The challenge is not stabbing myself on the way down,” I said, getting low to the ground and figuring out the best way to hold the antler. Jesse encouraged me as I began to scoot down, and continued to do so my whole way down. At first I grabbed hold of the trees with my hand, and then stretched out my foot to the next tree down to slow my progress. All too soon though there weren’t any more trees to hold on to. I eased my way down further, using rocks to catch my feet, almost spider crawling my way down, cradling the antler in one arm the whole time. Rocks dislodged and skipped down the hill to land near Jesse’s feet. I really wasn’t nervous and was quite enjoying myself, with the great outdoors as my playground my whole life, this wasn’t my first time doing this, not even close, but it was my first time scooting down a steep hillside while holding on to a pointy antler. When I reached the spot where Jesse had more or less leaped down, I paused a moment. Jesse said something about catching me. The last seven or so feet was much steeper. Jesse would have helped me if I needed it, but I was determined. I was now completely on my backside, clutching the antler to my chest, I slide down a little further, once I was a bit closer to the ground, I leapt down, hitting the ground kind of at a run. That was fun! To be sure I’ll be doing that again, though maybe not with the antler.

Across the Field and Into the Woods (Part I)

Feb 5, 2017

It was a nice day for a winter walk; sunny, temperature around thirty, with a breeze. Jesse and I set out around 1:30 pm, out the back door, through the backyard and under the pine trees, across the road, and into the snow covered field, in a northward direction. Rocky, the dog, followed us or rather he walked in the same general direction we did but made his own path sometimes far from us. Once across the gravel drive, we stepped down into the ditch and the field. Snow crunched underfoot. The conditions were just right so that most often we barely sunk into the snow. We’d only gone a few yards into the field before we came to a temporary fence, stretching east to west across our path. The posts were just small white fiberglass posts with s single strand, not so much wire but string. Jesse stepped over it with ease. Being considerably shorter, I had to be more mindful, stepping over very cautiously being sure not to touch the strand. Rocky had already walked under it and wandered around in the field some distance away. We tramped through the snow, across the large field. In some places, the snow was soft and in others hard and crusty. The snow glared brightly in the full sun. The snow varied in depth, it was deep and crusty where it had drifted, blown by fierce winds, but shallow, barely covering the ground where the wind had gathered it from and the sun had melted. With the easy walking across the open field we made very good time. The field is on a hill, it sloped down toward another fence, this one permanent high tensile fence. Jesse angled us slightly to the east to get us to the gate, there was no stepping over this fence. As we veered northeast, walking down the slope, a large hawk flew overhead and landed on the hill southeast of us, quite a long distance away. It was too bright to take a good look at it as it flew over so we weren’t able to identify it. We halted to take a look at it but we could only just make out its silhouette. Jesse marveled at the large bird and wondered why it had landed in the field.

We continued onward to the fence. We rounded the corner post to the gate which was two coiled, springy wires, like a slinky, with a plastic handle, to avoid being shocked and a metal hook on the end. Jesse unhooked the top wire. Holding on the corner post for balance, I stepped over the bottom wire. Then Jesse stepped over it, again, it was much easier for him to so he didn’t grab the corner post for support. He then re-hooked the wire, closing the gate. Now we were in a pasture. Jesse took the lead again, this time taking us northwest, downhill toward a big manmade pond. There was evidence that the pond had thawed and refroze a couple of times recently. Jesse wondered about the thickness of the ice and whether or not we should walk on it. I weighed in that we should be careful about walking on it. As we drew nearer, Jesse decided we should go around it. So we skirted the pond, heading up the northwest slope above it. Rocky chose to go around it on the northeast side. A dike stretched across the north end. Woods make a point on the other side of the dam, sloping downward. A deep ravine cut down the hill side perpendicular to the dam. On the slope above and almost even with the dam, we found coyote tracks in the snow. It’s always fun to see that they are around. We came to another fence and go through the already open gate. Large trees rose up on our right side, on the east. We walked across a very small pond, more like just a place where water will pool. More coyote tracks. Jesse wondered, “How do birds get water in the winter time?” I didn’t really have an answer for him. We climbed up out of the pond area, following a deer track. A few feet away, on our right, was an orange, metal pipe gate. As Jesse approached the gate he said, “I’d like to see tracks in the snow from the wing tips of an owl or hawk chasing and catching a rodent.”

I replied, “I have seen wing tip tracks in the snow, it is pretty cool.” Jesse undid the chain and opened the gate. We left the pasture behind and entered the woods. Near the gate, the wood and ravine were narrow. On the other side, Rocky was trotting in the pasture near the fence. As we began waking downhill, and further into the woods, Rocky found a way under the fence and explored the woods on the opposite side of the ravine from us, but heading more or less in the same direction. We hiked down a narrow old road, hugging the side of the bluff as it made its way down it, the ravine which became increasingly deeper and wider yawned on our right. Somewhat across from the gate, where the ravine is just a small ditch, is an old limestone foundation, the remains of a homestead. The first time Jesse brought me here, he told me people once drove Model-Ts up that trail. More recently it was a snowmobile trail, now it’s an easy trail for Jesse and I to hike down the bluff – hiking back up is not so easy. The trail is laden with branches, sticks, rocks, and in some places, during the summer, it gets overgrown with vegetation. It is also quite steep with short flat stretches or a gentle incline before resuming steepness. As always, I enjoy the trees, their beauty and relaxing power, as we walk under and among them. Jesse enjoys them too, at one point he said, “Behold, the mighty white pine,” when a white pine stuck out conspicuously from the deciduous trees around it across the ravine. It was indeed a mighty tree, tall, stately, fairly straight and with a large circumference. We observed several sets of raccoon tracks here and there along the trail. This spot is one of my favorites, it’s just so lovely. As we descended further and further down the bluff, the top of it loomed and then towered above us, an impressive sight, lending a fresh perspective on just how small we are. The side of the bluff just drops away on our right into the yawning deep ravine, going over the edge would be disastrous, which is part of the thrill and majesty of this place. The sun filters through the trees above us. In some places, layers of sedimentary rock are exposed. Somewhere close to halfway down, on the bluff slope above us, are two very large limestone rock formations, two halves of a whole. They had once been one piece, now cleaved in half with a good sized gap between them. Jesse pondered when and how they’d been split apart, and did it happen very slowly over time, or quickly in one day? Did it happen hundreds or thousands of years ago or in the last fifty years or perhaps even more recently than that? Did it make a loud noise or silently drift apart? Again, I had no answer, though this time he didn’t expect me to. It would take a geologist with special equipment to venture an answer to the why, how, and when, and even then it may only be speculation. I had an urge to leave the trail, climb up the bluff and check out the rock formations and possibly climb them, may be next time.